What WOULD the suffragettes who boycotted 1911 Census make of women who are enraged by today's poll?

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Marital discord takes many forms. But that between Edward Maund and his wife Eleonora has gone down in history as a fascinating symbol of the power of early day feminism. 

At the beginning of the last century, after 36-year-old Eleonora defied Edward’s will and embarrassed his status as the head of the household, her husband made his anger very public.

Eleonora was one of thousands of women now known as ‘Census evaders’. They used the opportunity of the 1911 Census to protest about Edwardian society’s mistreatment of women.

Thousands of women are now known as ‘Census evaders’. They used the opportunity of the 1911 Census to protest about Edwardian society’s mistreatment of women 

Not only did they consider the Census ‘sexist’ because Herbert Asquith’s Liberal government asked for the form to be filled in by each ‘head of household’ – naturally a man – but many women used it as an opportunity to express their anger at not having the vote.

Under the rallying cry of ‘If women don’t count, neither shall they be counted’, groups across the country made their strong opinions known on the day of the Census – April 2, 1911.

Eleonora Maund’s behaviour, considered most unwifely at the time, can be seen among many similar in records of the survey held in the National Archives. 

They show that her husband, a prosperous African-explorer-turned-businessman 22 years her senior, filled in the Census, listing himself, his wife, three children and two servants as living in their home in West Kensington, London.

However, like countless other women, Eleonora intercepted the form before it was given to the official enumerator and crossed out her own name. Instead, at the bottom, she wrote ‘Wife Away’.

Her furious husband discovered this sabotage, restored his wife’s name and added in angry red ink: ‘My wife, unfortunately being a suffragette, put her pen through her name, but it must stand as correct – it being an equivocation to say that she is away – she being always resident here & has only attempted by a silly subterfuge to defeat the object of the Census. To which as “Head” of the family I object.’

Another woman stuck a ‘Votes for Women’ flyer across the form, writing sarcastically: ‘No persons here, only women’

‘Silly subterfuge’ or just one brave pinprick against unthinking male domination, Eleonora Maund’s defiance cannot be erased from history.

Intriguingly, today, we are witnessing another, very different generation of women threatening to sabotage next month’s ten-yearly Census.

Instead of being a feminist call-to-arms, their protest demonstrates just how far British society has come in the intervening 110 years and how political priorities have changed. 

Fair Play For Women has launched a legal challenge against the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is running the survey, over the issue of sex.

The head count – which has been going since 1801, although this year’s, on March 21, could be the last, with future population counts being carried out in other, cheaper and easier ways – will be the first to ask people about their gender identity among many other questions. 

But campaigners disagree with the change to the Census that allows people to answer the question whether you are male of female by using the sex recorded on a document such as their passport. 

They believe only your birth certificate should be used because a passport, which can be changed simply with a doctor’s note, allows people too much freedom to choose their sex, regardless of their sex at birth.

They say this will defeat the purpose of the £906 million Census by not collating accurate data. 

For its part, the ONS says: ‘The guidance makes clear we are referring to government-issued documents. This is not self-identification.’

In today’s debate, feminists and transgender activists find themselves on different sides.

As one woman blogger put it on Twitter: ‘When the suffragettes boycotted the Census, they were making a point about a lack of human rights afforded to women, and the inability to participate in democracy and society. 

'Today, TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] are just angry that transwomen are able to record themselves as women.’

Of course, in the days before sex-change surgery and Twitter, Eleonora Maund and her sister feminists had to find other ways to be heard.

Fair Play For Women has launched a legal challenge against the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is running the survey, over the issue of sex

Against growing feminist militancy fuelled by the recently formed Women’s Freedom League, which saw hunger strikes and Parliament rejecting several opportunities to give some women the vote, Prime Minister Herbert Asquith had become unsympathetic to women’s suffrage. 

So, the 1911 Census offered an ideal protest vehicle, and women’s organisations, whose supporters had already vandalised government property, called for a boycott.

And thus ‘the battle for the Census’ began.

Margaret Wynne Nevinson, a member of the Women’s Freedom League, was typical in her view, saying the cause was based on ‘the great axiom of the British Constitution – that government must rest on the consent of the governed’.

The Census had been the brainchild of the President of the Local Government Board, John Burns.

His concern was the size of families, high levels of infant mortality and how fertility was affected when women worked in different types of employment.

As the 16th child in a family of 18, only nine of whom survived infancy, he was on a mission to reduce mortality by improving housing and childcare.

Interestingly, in view of the complaints about the gender question on next month’s Census, there were concerns, while compiling the 1911 survey, that questions about the length of marriage would be ‘too intrusive’.

Among the loudest ‘Boycott The Census’ voices was Edith How-Martyn, who said: ‘Any government which refuses to recognise women must be met by women’s refusal to recognise the government.’

Leading suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst urged passive protest, whereby women at home on Census night should refuse to complete the return or avoid the Census altogether

Leading suffragettes such as Emmeline Pankhurst urged passive protest, whereby women at home on Census night should refuse to complete the return (and risk a £5 fine or a month’s imprisonment), or avoid the Census altogether by making sure they were out of the house.

All across the country on Sunday, April 2, 1911, women left their homes so they couldn’t be counted or were ready with a pen to sabotage the answers given by their ‘head of household’.

They were urged to write across the form: ‘No Votes for Women; no Information from Women.’

Alternatively, thousands absented themselves, remaining away until midday the following day.

Some hired or borrowed houses from wealthy sympathisers so women could hole up together, holding all-night revelries. 

It was to one such gathering that Ada Flatman, 35, and a friend were heading in Cheltenham when two policemen suddenly started shadowing them.

Ada, a Women’s Social and Political Union member, had organised a midnight supper party at a borrowed house. 

She told the Gloucestershire Echo newspaper afterwards: ‘We parried the detectives and at last I held them at bay while my friend disappeared down a side street.’

On arrival at the house, she and nine other women spent the night listening to violin music. Elsewhere, women held bridge parties and concerts.

In Manchester, Jessie Stephenson rented a large house – later known as ‘Census Lodge’ – and invited fellow evaders to bring ‘refreshments, rugs and cushions. Musical friends should bring their instruments. Every evader is asked to… bring at least ten women with her’. 

Sentries were posted on the doors of the property in Victoria Park to guard against police.

The enumerator called early in the morning to collect the Census form. Jessie’s was the only name recorded, along with 156 anonymous women and 52 men sympathisers.

Among more famous resisters was Sidney Mappin, a director of the Royal silversmiths Mappin & Webb.

Some of the larger house parties allowed access to the Press, and photos appeared in newspapers of women sleeping, crammed together on the floor.

All across the country on Sunday, April 2, 1911, women left their homes so they couldn’t be counted or were ready with a pen to sabotage the answers given by their ‘head of household’

One reporter wrote that women assembling like this ‘for a kind of orgie’ was ‘proof of the folly of giving them a vote’. 

Some women stayed out all night by walking the streets or moors. Others acquired horse-drawn caravans to overnight on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire and on Wimbledon Common, South-West London.

In Central London, a rally with speeches was held in Trafalgar Square until resisters were moved on by police. 

But they decamped to nearby Aldwych, where a large indoor roller-skating rink had been hired specially.

Dorothea Rock, a 29-year-old Essex suffragette, wrote on her Census form: ‘I, Dorothea Rock, in the absence of the male occupier, refuse to fill up this Census paper as, in the eyes of the Law, women do not count, neither shall they be counted.’

In Malvern, Worcestershire, Kate Gillie sabotaged her form, dedicating it ‘in loving memory of Mrs Clarke and Miss Henria Williams who lost their lives for the cause’. 

(Williams had recently died after being roughly treated by police during a tax-resistance protest. Her coffin was draped in the suffragette colours with a wreath saying: ‘She hath done what she could.’)

Gillie added acidly: ‘If I am intelligent enough to fill in this Census form, I can surely make an X on a ballot form.’

Mary Howey, of Cradley, Hertfordshire, tartly recorded as her answer to the question about illnesses and infirmity ‘not enfranchised’. 

Another woman stuck a ‘Votes for Women’ flyer across the form, writing sarcastically: ‘No persons here, only women.’

In Kensington, author Laurence Housman, brother of the poet A. E. Housman, and a supporter of the women’s vote, opened his house to women for a ‘midnight orgy of resistance’.

He wrote on his form: ‘All information refused by the four women inmates as protest at their exclusion from the Franchise.’

Emily Wilding Davison hid in the Houses of Parliament and was determined her vote was not counted. She was killed by King George V’s horse Anmer during the Epsom Derby two years later (pictured)

The most eye-catching protest was made by suffragette stalwart Emily Wilding Davison, who was determined that if her vote was not counted at Westminster, then at least she would be.

She smuggled herself into the House of Commons on Saturday, April 1, and hid in a broom cupboard – sustaining herself with meat lozenges and lime juice.

After being found by a cleaner on the Monday morning, the Clerk of the Works for the Houses of Parliament recorded her address on the Census as ‘Found hiding in crypt of Westminster Hall’. 

She was also described as the sole occupant of the Houses of Parliament. A triumph indeed, although two years later Davison died for her cause, hit by King George V’s horse Anmer during the Epsom Derby.

The suffragettes had gained great publicity, and not a single protester was arrested or fined, which they saw as a government climbdown.

However, John Burns, who had devised the Census, tried to downplay the actions of what he called ‘vixens in velvet’, saying their number was ‘negligible’.

Jill Liddington, in her book Vanishing For The Vote, estimates that between 3,000 and 4,000 people actually boycotted the Census.

The fact that the female-male ratio had not changed since the last Census in 1901 – 1,068 women per 1,000 men – suggests that the protest’s effect on official statistics was, indeed, negligible.

Certainly, the boycott did nothing to sway Asquith, who remained obstinately opposed to women’s suffrage. It was only in 1918 that Parliament granted some women the right to vote – but not on an equal basis to men, who gained universal suffrage.

Ten years later, the Representation Of The People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 gave all women over the age of 21 the vote on the same basis as men.

Nonetheless, as Laurence Housman wrote, it allowed the ‘non-heroic many’, who baulked at window-smashing or going on hunger strikes, to play their part in the fight for the vote.

When we fill in our Census forms next month, we should spare a thought for the midnight walkers, roller-skaters and Eleonora Maunds of 1911 and their fight to be counted as citizens, not simply statistics.

By Michael Powell 

Census chiefs have quietly launched the ten-yearly survey a month early, sparking fury among feminists who have branded it a ‘dirty trick’ to block their High Court case.

The £900 million survey is due to be held nationwide on March 21 but the Office for National Statistics decided it should ‘go live’ online last Monday – 27 days early.

Last week, The Mail on Sunday revealed that campaign group Fair Play For Women had launched a legal challenge after accusing the ONS of caving in to last-minute pressure from transgender activists.

The ONS now claims it is too late to bring the legal case after it uploaded the Census online last week.

It came three days after the women’s group notified civil servants that it was seeking a judicial review over changes to guidance allowing people to state the sex that appears on legal documents, such as a passport.

Campaigners argue that a person’s sex on legal documents can be easily changed with a note from a doctor and they want people to be compelled to put down the sex on their birth certificate.

The ONS last night insisted it had always planned to do a soft launch on February 22 and rejected claims it was connected to the High Court case.

In a letter to Fair Play For Women’s solicitors last Wednesday, Government lawyers said the legal action could not be brought because ‘all ONS systems to complete the Census are now live (as from 3pm on 22 February) and people can now complete the return and submit their returns, or complete in whole or in part and save their responses with a view to later submission’.

Neither the ONS nor the Census website and its social-media accounts alert the public that they can complete the form early. 

TV and newspaper adverts, social-media clips and posted leaflets all state: ‘Census Day is 21 March.’

Dr Nicola Williams, of Fair Play For Women, said: ‘When we got the letter we were absolutely stunned.

‘They did not indicate to anyone publicly that they were going to do this. It is a preposterous dirty trick just to stop us from taking them to court. It is outrageous what the ONS is doing.’

Dr Williams, whose group has raised more than £60,000 to fight the case, revealed she had instructed Jason Coppel QC to seek a High Court order next week to get the guidance removed.

An ONS spokesman said: ‘It has always been the ONS’s clearly stated intention to begin data collection well before Census Day.

‘This is to maximise response, manage the online demand and limit the number of field staff having to follow up with households who had not completed after Census Day.’

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